The fate of America’s most wanted foreigner, Osama bin Laden, was much discussed in the Arab press this week. The Pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi said Thursday that Afghanistan’s ruling militia, the Taliban, was tightening the noose around him but would not yield to U.S. pressure to hand him over or banish him to a third country. On Wednesday, the Taliban announced that bin Laden had been stripped of all means of communication, including a satellite phone, and that restrictions had been placed on the meetings he could hold. His status as a “guest” of the Taliban would be reconsidered if he breached the restrictions, the statement added.
Sources cited Thursday by al-Quds al-Arabi conceded that there had been an argument between bin Laden and the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, about bin Laden’s advocacy of a “fatwa” against Americans and Jews, calling for attacks on them worldwide until U.S. forces quit Muslim lands. Omar argued against the indiscriminate killing of Americans, given that Americans included Muslims, others who sympathized with Islam, and still others who were “peaceable people,” the paper said. He also said that shari’a (Islamic law) did not permit the indiscriminate targeting of Jews.
But the sources insisted that the Taliban would not hand bin Laden over to the United States, however much it came under pressure to do so. They noted that when Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal asked Omar to do this last year, the Taliban leader retorted sharply, “You should show respect for your religion. How can you demand the extradition of a Moslem to an infidel state, even if he’s a killer?”
Al-Quds al-Arabi said that U.S. officials who met Omar in the Taliban stronghold of Qandahar last week were less interested in securing the extradition of bin Laden than in thwarting Chinese attempts to gain influence in Afghanistan. It quoted Afghan sources as saying the U.S. officials had urged the Taliban not to sell to China the unexploded Tomahawk cruise missiles that had landed in Afghanistan during last year’s U.S. airstrikes on bin Laden’s camps. Beijing, keen to lay its hands on the missiles’ technology, had offered to buy them “at a huge price,” the paper said. It quoted sources saying the Americans had warned they would step up financial and military assistance to the Afghan opposition if the Taliban “went too far” in its relations with China.
Al-Quds al-Arabi also reported that bin Laden’s mother flew into Qandahar aboard a private plane last month with a message from Saudi officials, threatening bin Laden that he would be putting his brothers’ lives at risk if he targeted any member of the Saudi ruling family. Bin Laden, whose family is one of the wealthiest and most prominent in the kingdom, was stripped of his Saudi citizenship because of suspected involvement in two attacks against U.S. military targets in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, in which 24 American servicemen were killed.
Presumably writing before the Taliban announced its new restrictions on bin Laden, commentator Joseph Samaha of Saudi-owned al-Hayat described him in an editorial Thursday as one of the great beneficiaries of the American-sponsored “communications revolution,” which enabled him to transfer money undetected around the world and to reach every corner of the “information village.”
Pending the Senate votes Friday, there was little comment around the world on Flytrap. But writing in the Times of London, columnist Simon Jenkins said that while Clinton’s trial had been painful, it had “toned up the muscles of democracy.” He wrote, “Britons cannot scoff. They are suffering an accountability famine. Their legislature can hardly muster more than a pip or a squeak at present. The can hardly cast stones over the Atlantic.” Clinton’s escape was on several British front pages. “Clinton off the hook without even a rebuke” was Friday’s headline in the Independent.
But the main story in the British press, leading Friday’s editions of both the liberal Guardian and the conservative Daily Telegraph, was a food scandal about the effects of genetically modified foods on human health. A British scientist at a government-funded institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, who had been forced to retire early after publishing research showing that rats fed on genetically modified potatoes suffered a weakened immune system and damage to vital organs, has been supported in “an unprecedented memorandum” by 20 scientists from 13 countries calling for his rehabilitation, the reports said. The Guardian also revealed that the rats’ brain size had decreased. The government promised an urgent investigation.
The Times also gave front-page billing to a row in Italy over a ruling by the country’s supreme court that a woman cannot be raped if she is wearing tight denim jeans. Thursday the Rome newspaper Il Messagero described the ruling, which overturned the conviction of a driving instructor for raping one of his pupils, as “a manual for aspiring rapists.” Another Rome newspaper, La Repubblica, took the same line. In a front-page comment Thursday, columnist Furio Colombo said it was “simply not true that two consenting people are needed to take off a pair of jeans” and that he couldn’t imagine how the judges had reached such a conclusion. “Perhaps it is inexperience, which may be understandable since jeans have been around in Italy for little more than 30 years,” he wrote.